Why Churches Don’t Grow

Healthy people grow. Healthy animals grow. Healthy trees grow. Healthy plants grow. Healthy churches grow. Growth is a characteristic that God breathed into all living things. And the body of Christ – the local church – is a living thing.

So, when a church is not growing, it is helpful to ask: “Why not?”

Here are five “growth-restricting obstacles.”  My purpose is not so much to describe the solution, but to help correctly identify the cause. If we understand the reason for non-growth, it is easier to accurately diagnose and prescribe the cure.

Obstacle #1:  The Pastor. One of three pastor-related reasons may stunt the health/growth of a church:

  1. The pastor does not have a priority for outreach. Churches grow when they have a priority for reaching the unchurched. When the pastor doesn’t, the church won’t.
  1. The pastor does not have a vision for outreach. Lack of vision for outreach is as much an obstacle as lack of priority. Pastors of growing churches believe God wants to reach people in their community and assimilate those new believers into their church.
  1. The pastor does not have the knowledge to lead the church in outreach. Working harder is not the secret to effective outreach. The secret is working smarter. Unfortunately, little is taught in seminaries or Bible schools about how to effectively reach and assimilate new people.

Obstacle #2: The Church Members. There are often competent and skilled clergy in non-growing churches, because the problem is in the pews. Church members can keep a church from growing when…

  • Members have no priority for reaching the lost. “Sure, our church should reach people,” some will say. “But me? I’ve got three kids, a job, membership at the health club, and a lawn to mow. Someone else with more time should feel compelled.”
  • Members have a self-serving attitude about church. If people believe the pastor’s primary concern should be to “feed the sheep,” the flock will never grow, and will eventually die.

Beyond the pastor and members, there are other barriers that keep churches from growing…

Obstacle #3:  Perceived Irrelevance.  Growing churches start with the issues and concerns of the people in their community, and then relate the Gospel to those points of need. Non-growing churches are seen by the unchurched as having an irrelevant message to their life.

Obstacle #4:  Using the Wrong Methods. Any farmer knows you can’t harvest ripe wheat…with a corn-picker. Using inappropriate methods can be worse than no methods, since they create resistance to the Gospel. A bull-horn on a street corner…tracts in an urban neighborhood…youth outreach methods in a senior adult community… None of these methods are wrong. They are just inappropriate for the harvest field.

Obstacle #5:  No Plan for Assimilation. Over 80% of those who drop out of church do so in the first year of their membership. A new member does not automatically become an active member without an intentional plan by the church on how to assimilate them into a caring, loving, Christian community.

There are many reasons why churches don’t grow. But there are no good reasons. Healthy churches grow. God wants your church to grow. He created it to grow. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding out why it’s not growing, and removing those obstacles. What about your church?

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